Sometimes a white person may declare that she knows how it feels to be a person of colour, because she has spent a lot of time amongst people of colour. Other people of colour may then declare that she does not know how it feels, because she is white. The white person may then think that she is being discriminated against because of the colour of her skin, that those who accuse her of not empathizing are just making assumptions based on stereotypes about white people.
However, the argument that a person would know how it feels to be of group X because she spent a lot of time with people of group X is fallacious. If you are not of group X, then spending time with people of group X does not change the fact that you are not of group X.
For example, most people would agree that if a visible person of colour spent a lot of time with white people, it does not follow that the person of colour must know how it feels to be white. Some white people find the reverse idea more plausible, because they believe themselves to be raceless or even racially disembodied.
If a white person spends a lot of time with people of colour, the racial power differences do not dissolve, and they may even be strengthened.
A pimp does not know what it is like to be a prostitute, even if he has spent a lot of time with prostitutes. A man does not know what it is like to be a woman, even if he has had many girlfriends. A husband does not know what it is like to be a wife, even if he is married to one. A slave merchant does not know what it is like to be a slave, even if he has interacted with many slaves.
A person’s whiteness does not disappear even if she eats dim sum, if she listens to Mos Def, or if she travels to India. If a white person participates in these activities, she is not living and breathing the presumed “essences” of people of colour. People of colour do not have racial essences, other than being confined because of the colours of their skins. No matter what a white person does, she is still embodied in white skin and embedded in a world that confers privilege to whites.
Racial empathy cannot be learned by simply surrounding yourself with people of other races, and racial empathy is different from knowing how it feels to be of a different race. When a white person declares that she knows how it feels to be a person of colour, it is another display of white privilege and assumed omniscience.